This article was first published by Entrepreneur.com on October 25, 2021
You might be imagining yourself chilling on a beach in Turks and Caicos, cool drink in hand, pen and paper lying in your lap. You’ve built your company from scratch — with all its close calls, pre-dawn dilemmas and bootstrapped wins — and sold it to Google or Amazon for a billion bucks. Finally, time to relax and reflect… to tell your story and offer lessons so the next generation of scrappy entrepreneurs need not learn the hard way.
Not so fast… or, rather, not so slow. Because telling your story shouldn’t wait until you’re famous, successful and retired. Recording experiences as an entrepreneur, as they happen, can actually be an engine for building a business, including helping to develop a brand and selling it to the world. Turns out, it’s also great for your mental health.
1. TELLING YOUR STORY HELPS INVENT, AND RE-INVENT, YOURSELF
Being an entrepreneur is more than a full-time job… it’s a way of life. On weekends, while the rest of the world kicks back, you’re likely refining your pitch. On Monday morning, while many trudge to work, you’ve doubtless already been up for hours researching the best payroll solutions. It’s exciting, but it’s exhausting. So, why would you take time you seemingly don’t have to record your experiences?
Because, for business dreamers, storytelling is not an extracurricular hobby, but a vital practice. As I discovered with my brother, while writing our own memoir, Recorded Time: How to Write the Future, businesses are quantum phenomena: recording them changes them. It’s true in accounting, for example; if you keep careful track of your expenses and invoices, you’ll see opportunities to cut costs and boost revenue.
It’s also true of the human side of business. To see, hear and represent your company in new lights and through diverse voices, you need is a useful way to record experience in real time, one moment at a time, and as an integral part of your workflow. Transcription services like Rev and Otter convert voice into text, and can help, though they are not designed for storytelling. So, my brother and I created the Biograph platform to facilitate collaborative narration that harnesses the entrepreneurial stories we’re already telling as part of our daily operations.
Imagine if you, your team and members of your community each spent just moments a day reflecting on experience and recording journeys — contextualizing business data and objectives with the stories that animate them. You’d soon generate a robust archive of searchable, versatile and collaborative content to enjoy, implement and repurpose as you wish. As you converse on record in real time, novel ideas percolate; seeds of new projects will germinate and take root.
Days, weeks, months and years later, as you revisit this living archive — which by now may contain thousands of items and hundreds of hours of recorded time linked to accessible, interactive text — you’ll recognize trends that will help you to conceive fresh content and products, realize obvious solutions and opportunities hiding in plain sight (and sound) and refine your message and reinvent your brand. Telling your story is a chance to re-create yourself.
2. IT ALSO HELPS YOU MAINTAIN PERSPECTIVE, AND STAY MOTIVATED
There are moments of real joy in the life of an entrepreneur — such as the first time you experience a prototype for a product, or cash a big check — but the day-to-day reality is less glamorous. Most days, you plow ahead, struggle and often fail. Good leaders and businesspeople know that, and don’t lose heart when facing mistakes. As Winston Churchill advised: “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
But how do you endure and stay enthusiastic? There’s a time to keep your head down, focus, and take an occasional beating, but you must make time to gain perspective on where you’ve been and where you’re going. So, take some moments every day to candidly record observations, ideas and feelings about yourself and your company. You might be scientific and/or poetic about it… ruthless and/or compassionate.
On a Monday the muse might find you in a reflective mood; then playful yet cynical on a Tuesday; guarded on Wednesday, choosing your words wisely; still reserved on Thursday morning but by evening buoyant with reasons to hope; spontaneous on a Friday; animated on a Saturday, enjoying a triumphant high or coping with inevitable lows; and peaceful and quiet on Sunday, with a laconic offering of neologisms.
If you incorporate this daily or weekly practice, you’ll build a wealth of stories and reflections. When you find yourself discouraged, read or listen back to a victorious day last month and rekindle enthusiasm, or to a session from six months ago in order to realize how far you and your business have come since. Telling your ongoing story affords you the space to gain perspective on progress, and when things hit the fan, that story will help preserve momentum and motivation.
3. THE VALUE OF MAKING YOURSELF A PROTAGONIST
The road to success is littered with failed startups. Many had great products, slick salespeople and impressive numbers, but were missing something key: a powerful story. A business is more than a product; it’s a tale you tell your investors and customers… one about how your brand will change the world and improve their lives.
A good story is dynamic and relatable. It represents people confronting adversity, learning and evolving. In other words, it’s what you do every day that makes a good plotline. As a business owner, you’re always overcoming obstacles and living to tell about it. Savvy ones recognize this and use it to their advantage — they make themselves the protagonist of their own story. Tales of survival and innovation inspire customers and investors to root for favorite personalities, and to start aligning their own stories in accordance.
Recording daily experience as an entrepreneur will help you develop the tools and materials you need to make your business a living legend. You’ll have a record of key decisions, critical moments of despair and silver-lined turning points. Only as the protagonist in your own life can you perfect your supporting role in the stories of others, principally your customers and investors.
4. TELL THE WHOLE STORY
There are also dangers attendant to corporate storytelling. Too often, in the pressure to sell ourselves and our businesses, we sand down rough edges and lose some humanity in the process. You know the bland stories I’m talking about: “So-and-so quit Stanford and moved into his mother’s garage. After years of bootstrapping and elbow-grease, he rocketed to the top of Silicon Valley. Now he owns a yacht called the S.S. Just So”. As Yuval Noah Harari writes, such generic narratives foreclose “…99 percent of what we experience [that] never becomes part of the story”.
You don’t want to emulate the self-told tales of Elizabeth Holmes or Adam Neumann: more rhetoric than truth. Smart entrepreneurs recognize this danger, and avoid offering sterile or overblown versions. They humanize themselves, bring in details from parts of their lives that don’t fit the mold — details that emerge from the 99% percent of life that doesn’t make it onto the quarterly report or professional bio.
When Alex Blumberg founded Gimlet Media, he documented the early days of the company on tape, including some of his most embarrassing moments, and broadcast selections in the podcast, Startup. In an early episode, for instance, Blumberg pitches Silicon Valley legend Chris Sacca… and absolutely bombs. Why would he put that out in public? Wouldn’t it be better to present himself as a polished, skilled entrepreneur who nails every pitch and impresses every investor? But Blumberg — a longtime producer at NPR’s Planet Money and This American Life — knew his craft. He might not have sold Sacca on his idea, but the episode hooked hundreds of thousands of listeners and boosted his business in the process. He recently sold his company to Spotify for $230 million.
Blumberg’s example is instructive for all entrepreneurs, not just podcast start-ups. Your story doesn’t have to be perfect or complete, and if you claim it is, then you’re being dishonest. Failure is an asset if you use it to detail an engaging tale. Whether you publish or keep it private, making a daily or weekly record of experience — no frills or filters — will produce details and insights that will make you more than a cardboard cutout, but a whole person who inspires others to invest in your truth, your slice of our collective experience… your version of our shared story.